The language of Viktor Orbán’s “political philosophy”

Viktor Orbán's philosophical inspiration most likely comes from a couple of local sources. I already mentioned his invocation of biblical quotations, undoubtedly supplied by Zoltán Balog, the Hungarian Reformed minister. His "political philosophy" probably owes a lot to András Lánczi, the author of Conservative Manifesto (2002). Lánczi's ideas are similar to the until recently fashionable neoconservatism but with a Hungarian twist. The basis of Lánczi's conservatisim is "morality." His favorite words are "order," "stability," "laws of nature," and "hierarchy." These words are echoed in Orbán's speeches and writings, though in their second life they are stripped of any theoretical sophistication.

But here I don't want to talk about the hodgepodge of pseudo-philosophical ideas that Orbán invokes but about the language that he (or his speechwriter/ghostwriter) uses. His latest opus appeared in today's Magyar Nemzet entitled "The Age of the Right in Europe." The article is actually a more detailed version of his speech in Tusnádfürdő. In brief, the left is dead and the time of the right has arrived. But the language! That's something else. Here's a sampling of "interesting" turns of phrases starting with the second sentence about the collapse of communism twenty years ago: "Only xenoliths, a few rocky reefs remind us of a sunken empire."  Or the next sentence about the present political and economic problems that "whirl around the world amid drifting ice." Or what about this? "Asia is rising ever higher and being watched with a mixture of admiration and shudder…." "It doesn't matter which way we turn our sights, the accustomed landscape is being reorganized by the vibrations of change." I'm getting very dizzy.

From the reefs and drifting ice he turns to Europe which is the "epicenter of the [current political] movements." This is where, according to Orbán, real changes are taking place. In Europe a historic chapter is coming to a close because "an intellectual system of co-ordinates lost its validity." This system of co-ordinates is neo-liberalism, which is "an odd creature."  Looking more closely at this creature one discovers "a tangled and oppressive imbroglio of myths, taboos, superstitious beliefs." Then comes an aside, perhaps straight from Reverend Balog: "It is worth noting that intellectual circles used to call the Middle Ages dark, most likely because in those days the people still believed in miracles." An interesting explanation!  He does not want to minimize liberal democratic achievements of the past. After all, the left "deserves credit" for fighting for the basic rights of people. He finishes his brief historical discourse on social democracy by making us "step over the trenches of a world war and the bodies of pernicious dictatorships."

The economic elite, which according to him is liberal and sympathizes with the left, is not just growing; it is sprawling (terpeszkedik), a verb with a much more aggressive meaning. The left is faced with an "ideological void," and "it is not only traveling on a road leading to nowhere but it turns into the first dead-end street." This is a "political horror show." "The left navigated its ship into the harbor of neo-liberal anthropology." That was bad enough, but the real trouble was that "it dropped its anchor there." "The well-oiled machine of the neo-liberal financial circles thrives by trying to convince the world of their truths." It also seems that the economic crisis brought to the surface a fact that was "submerged in the plugged-up well of reality." That fact is that "the market only protects the interests of the capitalists."

Then comes the Hungarian political situation. In Orbán's vision there is not one extreme political group but two: the left-liberals are also extremists. These two extremes are fighting each other and their "verbal duels can be heard on the political stage of Hungary." This verbal duel, according to Orbán, is injurious to Hungary's reputation abroad. These two extremist groups are throwing "verbal cannisters" at each other, while "the owners of these cannisters hang onto each other and pretend to wrestle. In reality they are dancing according to a prescribed choreography." "The nightmare of both of these groups is a Fidesz government that will bring tranquility, stability and security." And finally, Orbán  borrows from our conservative philosopher Lánczi when he writes that "these last twenty years for us was a period of transition." Now the real regime change will come, and the "honor of the nation will be restored." His government will be able to give "a historical opportunity to the Hungarian people. It will be the people's opportunity and the government's responsibility."

I concentrated here on Orbán's language. I don't know how other people feel about it, but when I look behind the forced metaphors I find almost no substance. We don't know how the right, once victorious, is going to restore the economic health of the country or solve the current social problems. Turns of phrases are masquerading as policy. And charges lodged to suggest a conspiracy between the extreme left and the extreme right are outright false. There is no extreme left, and the left-liberals are not dancing arm in arm with the extreme right. Why does Orbán think that an entirely new age is on the horizon?  Questions, questions. No answers but lots of words. Real wordsmithery.

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Member

The lack of substance should hardly come as a surprise. The main big political ideologies of our age are dead. When it comes to the big questions of political policy the only real options are capitalism and efforts to cut public spending and boost economic development.
The virtual consensus on the big issues is the main reason why politics has now shifted towards the micromanagement of small issues, quite often by self-appointed fanatics. Cultural, moral, ethnic and religious issues are coming into the foreground. On a worldwide scale the left is as guilty of promoting these issues as the right. The existence of a plurality of views on any one of a number of issues is offensive to the new politics. The state must control all and everything must bow to the moral dictates of the state in whatever area the new fanatics wish to impose it, whether that be a warped version of the nation on the right or some grand project to save the world from climate change or “bigotry” on the left.

Frank
Guest
First of all, congrats to Eva Balog for this website which seems to promote intelligent political discussion! …. I know politics is an emotional issue for many, but I miss factual data in many of the previous comments related to Orban. I’m curious about THE FACTS to back up why the author and many commenters believe – as has been suggested here and in previous articles and comments such as in “Viktor Orbán is moving farther to the right:” – that Viktor Orban has more autocratic and megalomaniac tendencies than any other major political leader, and why he would be such a danger if elected. In my view both of the advectives are exaggerated – of course, he has a big ego, and believes he can do things better – like Gyurcsany, or Bajnai, or any other leader. But that’s usual business for leader types. Neither do I see the danger in case he’s elected; he’s already been the head of government for a cycle, and nothing significant changed. So what’s the big fuss? On some level, I agree with David that there is a “virtual consensus” on the big issues. Both major Hungarian parties know that changes are needed… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Frank: “First of all, congrats to Eva Balog for this website which seems to promote intelligent political discussion!”
Thank you!
….
“I’m curious about THE FACTS to back up why the author and many commenters believe – as has been suggested here and in previous articles and comments such as in “Viktor Orbán is moving farther to the right:” – that Viktor Orban has more autocratic and megalomaniac tendencies than any other major political leader, and why he would be such a danger if elected.”
Unfortunately one could list the facts from here to doomsday. Perhaps one day I will make a list. By the way I basically disagree with you about the insignificance of words. Unfortunately, they do matter.
“In my view both of the advectives are exaggerated – of course, he has a big ego, and believes he can do things better – like Gyurcsany, or Bajnai, or any other leader.”
Unfortunately the 1998-2002 period contradicts Orbán’s very high opinion of himself. By the way, Bajnai is doing a splendid job in the economic sphere under very difficult circumstances.
Orbán unfortunately is a populist who is leading the country in the wrong direction. But I promise: I will collect all the facts you are missing.

Frank
Guest

Dear Eva,
Any FACTS yet?
Cheers,

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